Henry spent much of her long life working to help Utahns, especially those disadvantaged by low income and racial discrimination, to get an education and a shot at realizing their dreams. She died Wednesday at the age of 84, having grown from poverty and a job keeping house to recognition as a pioneer in education and community activism.
A daughter of a sharecropper who had been born a slave, Henry came to Utah in 1949 on her own and stayed, as she put it, because "the Lord wanted someone to come out here and help." And that is exactly what she did. Starting with nickel and dime donations, she eventually established the Alberta Henry Education Foundation in 1967 that has helped hundreds of disadvantaged students obtain college degrees.
A champion of education as a way out of poverty, she started working as a teacher's aide at a Head Start center in 1967 and graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in education in 1980.
She retired in 1986 from the Salt Lake School District, where she had been an administrator, minority consultant and community relations coordinator. Her talent for getting people together to solve problems was put to notable use during her 12-year stint as president of the Salt Lake chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Henry was known for her outspoken dedication to seeing that folks with no voice in the corridors of power were treated with fairness and dignity. She was a mentor for many community leaders, both black and white, who remember her as a strong woman who breeched the barriers of race in predominantly white Utah.
Utah will miss the sage advice and optimism that defined Alberta Henry's life.